Monday, June 12, 2006

Editorial: One-note policies harm scholarship

South Florida Sun-Sentinel

One-note policies harm scholarship

By Maria Cristina Garcia

June 12, 2006

Imagine a scholar of American studies who had never set foot in the United States or consulted any of its libraries and archives. The product of such "scholarship" would be suspect, even laughable.

Yet that is the level of mediocrity that the Florida Legislature would have its scholars produce.

SB 2434, just signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, prohibits the use of any funding for research in Cuba (and several other countries) on the grounds that it is a terrorist state.

Federal rules already severely restrict travel to Cuba. But now, the Florida Legislature -- which likes to craft its own foreign policy, especially in an election year -- is further tightening the screws. The effect is to limit what our students can learn and our scholars can study.

What will be the consequences for scholarship? Internationally recognized scholars of Cuba and the Caribbean will leave for other universities, while it will become increasingly difficult to attract top specialists to Florida's universities.

If the federal government follows suit, all Cuba-based scholarship in the sciences and arts will be produced outside the United States. Ironically, even policymakers will have to turn to international scholars for their data.

How does this affect the average Floridian? Scholarly collaborations between scientists on topics ranging from infectious diseases to sustainable agriculture to hurricane research will be greatly curtailed. Cultural exchanges in the arts -- which create vital opportunities for discussion, understanding and even change -- will be brought to a halt. The law will predictably produce mediocrity.

Americans generally acknowledge that citizens need to be better informed about the global community -- to maintain a competitive edge, enforce our security and, more importantly, to be responsible actors in the international arena. That the Florida Legislature would seek to curtail access to knowledge at this moment in history is outlandish to anyone with common sense.

ENCASA/U.S.Cuba, representing more than100 Cuban-American scholars, artists and other professionals across the U.S., opposes such one-note Cuba policies, which substitute for thoughtful policymaking. It is time for a new approach toward Cuba.

Maria Cristina Garcia, Ph.D., is a Cornell University professor and member of the steering committee of ENCASA (Emergency Network of Cuban American Scholars and Artists).

Copyright © 2006, South Florida Sun-Sentinel,0,5362576.story?coll=sfla-news-opinion

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